Make Mine Mud

Two weeks ago I completed a race. Not just any race, but a “Mudder”. Essentially, it is a standard cross-country style run combined with a series of unpleasant obstacles, mostly involving lots of mud and dirty water. My Mudder was of the shorter variety, just six miles. The other version, called a “Tough Mudder”, goes…

Published September 23, 2011 2:49 PM
5 min read

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SportsmudderthumbTwo weeks ago I completed a race. Not just any race, but a “Mudder”. Essentially, it is a standard cross-country style run combined with a series of unpleasant obstacles, mostly involving lots of mud and dirty water. My Mudder was of the shorter variety, just six miles. The other version, called a “Tough Mudder”, goes for a grueling 12. In both cases, the goal of the organizers seems to be to subject runners to a quasi-military experience (we must all secretly want to be Navy Seals) where they can show their ability to tolerate lots of slime, grime, and heavy breathing.

 

By Walt Mardis

SportsMudder1Two weeks ago I completed a race. Not just any race, but a “Mudder”. Essentially, it is a standard cross-country style run combined with a series of unpleasant obstacles, mostly involving lots of mud and dirty water. My Mudder was of the shorter variety, just six miles. The other version, called a “Tough Mudder”, goes for a grueling 12. In both cases, the goal of the organizers seems to be to subject runners to a quasi-military experience (we must all secretly want to be Navy Seals) where they can show their ability to tolerate lots of slime, grime, and heavy breathing.

In my particular race, held at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, over 6,000 runners took to the field. The race starts off down a cinder path that seems pleasant enough, but shortly afterwards you come upon eight four-foot-high concrete barriers in a row that must be jumped. Easy enough, you think, until you find that on the other side of each is an ankle-deep puddle of mud. Immediately, you are running with much of that squishy mud encased in and outside your shoes.

 

From there on, the challenges grow more daunting. Swampy bogs, with water up to your waist, 20-foot-high sand hills that crumble as you try to get footholds, multiple mounds of slime that clog your ears and eyes as you struggle to reach the top, and foot-deep mud puddles that you crawl through half-submerged, alligator-like. By the end, each runner looks like a losing candidate for TV’s “Survivor”.  

 

sportsmudder2My wife’s not-so-illogical questions both before and after the race were: “Why do it?” “Can’t you just run normal races like the Rye Derby if you feel the need to show off?” And she added, “Trust me, no one finds an old man covered in mud sexy or virile.” (See accompanying photo.)

 

So why did I do it? Rather than trust my own judgment for an answer, I turned to friends and family who also ran these races. Both my son Scott (who ran with me in the recent six-mile race) and my son-in-law, Ryan Sfreddo (who ran a 12-miler in 40-degree temperatures last November) talked about the fun – the fun of a new and different challenge, the fun of a silly race, the fun of getting dirty. But more often, the word camaraderie kept coming up. Not just hanging out with friends but sharing a common, difficult experience and helping one another get through it all as a team.

 

Scott, who is 37 and plans to do the 12-miler in November, relishes the fact that it’s out of the normal routine. “Guys my age look at ‘extreme sport’ shows on TV and fantasize that we could be doing all of the amazing things the contestants do. But we’re all older now; we have children, houses, and jobs. Mudders come as close as we are likely get to being extreme athletes – proving we still have it.”   

 

Ryan, who’s 35, said he was enticed into the race by his friend and fellow Rye resident, Rich Aube, late one night at a party. “We were standing at the bar and Rich asked if I would join in an adventure, but would not tell me what it was until I agreed to sign up. Of course, like any guy who has had a couple of beers and whose manliness has been challenged, I had to say yes. Nonetheless, I loved the opportunity to set a goal and to see if I could make the grade.”  

 

sportsmudder3For Ryan, the real fun was, again, the camaraderie. “We had over 20 guys pulling together and suffering all of the trials as a team. It’s knowing that you can’t let your friends down that keeps you going.” Having everyone finish the race was, for Ryan, the best part. The worst? “The last obstacle in the race was literally a shock treatment,” he said. “They had hung what looked like strips of fly paper from clothes lines that you had to run through. Little did we know until it was too late that the strips were charged with electricity, which gave enough of a jolt to drop some runners to their knees.” Still, Ryan admitted that he might be willing to do it again.

 

I thought someone closer to my own age might offer a different perspective, so I called my friend Tim Bragg. Tim, like me, is on the downhill side of 50 (although not as far down the hill). He ran with Ryan in last year’s race, finishing at the same time as his mostly younger team members. “It’s the pure pleasure of being part of a tight group that makes it all work,” he said. Tim also cited his own ‘bucket list’ as motivation for doing the race. “All of these younger guys are in it for the fun. For me, it was kind of a now or never thing.”  

 

So why do we all do it?  I added up the comments about challenges, about being part of a cohesive group, about playing in the mud, and about acting like much younger guys than we really are, and came up with a Peter Pan theory. We all want to be kids again, to have kids’ challenges, to be part of a kids’ gang – to be Peter’s ‘Lost Boys’.  We want to hang out with the team, do silly things, and prove ourselves to our friends. What better way than to slosh through the mud with companions at your side – with a cold beer waiting at the end and, most importantly, wives who, that night, will tuck their returning heroes into warm, comforting beds.

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